Meeting in Philadelphia in May of 1775 – more than a year before we declared our independence from Great Britain – the Second Continental Congress created the position of Postmaster General and conferred the title on Ben Franklin – and effectively established the U.S. Postal Service. The rest, as they say, is history. 

 “Under Franklin and his immediate successors, the postal system mainly carried communications between Congress and the armies. Postmasters and post riders were exempt from military duties so service would not be interrupted,” explains The United States Postal Service: An American History 1775 – 2006, a publication produced by the Postal Service.

George Washington envisioned a nation bound together by a system of post roads and post offices. The constitution itself provides for the operation of a system of post roads “to bind the nation together” – which, as a key element of Postal Service’s mission, has remained essentially unchanged over its 241-year history.

Washington and the other founding fathers believed America had a need for a mail system that ensured the free flow of information between citizens and their government. They understood that an informed citizenry was essential to a successful democracy. Indeed, the first editions of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution traveled as broadsides through the mail to inform all the colonies of what was happening in Philadelphia. 

To further promote efforts to inform the citizenry, the founding fathers authorized subsidized rates for a budding newspaper industry, which led to a proliferation of newspapers that reached even those living in the frontier. According to one of the most comprehensive histories of the Post Office, Wayne E. Fuller’s The American Mail, the generous postage policy for newspapers “was perhaps the most important single element in the development of the nation’s press.”

As we celebrate the Fourth of July, it seems an appropriate time to consider the Postal Service’s history and mission. How do you think the mission has changed since the Postal Service’s founding? Given all the changes in communications, is there still a need to bind the nation together through a postal system? 

Comments (1)

  • anon

    Absolutely yes! The USPS has been and should continue to be an important connective tissue that binds our communities. The existence of so many facilities throughout our vast country is a huge infrastructure investment that cannot and should not be discarded. Instead I'd like to see them used for many essential services like cashing checks, passports, voter registration sites, community billboards, a place to get a copy of constitution, learn about flag etiquette, perhaps even photocopy and email centers. My community would benefit from extended hours, not less. And the horrible condition of my neighborhood post office is an embarrassment to the community, needs paint, new or at least cleaned carpet and someone to wipe down the filthy counters, but I was told they get a janitor once a week or less. These post offices are the only government/public buildings in many places and should be well-maintained. The USPS is an important employer, a melting pot in many places. We cannot let this critical national institution be privatized and ruined.

    Sep 03, 2016

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